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Published on October 19, 2020

The Only Guide to Distance Learning You'll Ever Need

Timothy Kenefick, MD, Stamford Health Medical Group Pediatrics and Advisor to Darien Public Schools, and Susan Lasky, DO, Stamford Health Medical Group Pediatrics

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The 2020-2021 school year is in full swing with one exception: “back to school” isn’t “back in the classroom” for some kids. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the education system to change its way of teaching in a matter of months for everyone’s safety. Distance learning, also called “remote learning” among other names, is now the norm. How do we, as parents, help our active learners adjust to this new setting and overcome the challenges involved?

The pediatric experts at Stamford Health Medical Group offer the following tips for supporting your kids on their distance learning journey.

1. Reframe your thinking.

Maybe this situation isn’t ideal, but think of it as being on an adventure together. Remind your learner that you are a team, but encourage independence at the same time. When you sense anxiety in your child about school, use these tactics:

  • Tell them this is a new chapter on their learning journey. It’s exciting to be part of a major change in the world even though it may not feel that way right now.
  • Reassure them it’s ok to be nervous and not know what to expect. Everyone is looking for answers and will figure them all out together. That’s what problem-solving is all about!
  • Give them time to process their emotions and frustrations. Refrain from getting defensive when they say phrases like, “I can’t,” or, “I don’t want to.”
    • Use positive language to redirect a negative idea or attitude into a positive action. Show them by being a role model.
    • Validate their feelings, even if they seem negative to you. Try using phrases like, “Yes, this is hard. What do you think we can do to make it easier?”

See also: Calming Your Child's Anxiety About COVID-19.

2. Establish a classroom space.

Work with the space available in your home to create a learning environment so your child can shift to “school mode.” Some ideas include:

  • Designating part of the kitchen table as your child’s new work space. Remove any clutter from the area like napkins, cups and salt and pepper shakers.
  • Decorating the space with fun, educational supplies like stickers.
  • Posting pictures of friends from school (or teachers!) in the space.
  • Adding fun things to help them stay organized like a white board calendar or a colorful crate for books and supplies.

3. Keep a set schedule when possible.

Many school-age children thrive on routine. That’s why it’s key to try and mimic a “regular school day” as much as possible. Here are some ways to help your learner stay on schedule:

  • Keep close to the same wake-up time, even if there’s no rushing to catch the bus.
  • Stick to the same lunch and snack time. Let your child participate in making their lunch the night before school.
  • Allow for a recess or physical break away from their in-home classroom setup. This may include a social break with a sibling or neighbor. If possible, keep these breaks as close as possible to their usual times.

4. Show your support for teachers.

Education this year is completely different than before. While remote learning is an adjustment for all school-age children, it’s also very challenging for educators. When you have the chance to check in with your child’s teacher, ask these questions:

  • How are you doing?
  • Is there anything my family can do to help support you?
  • What are some common themes and challenges you’re noticing this year, and in an ideal world, what solutions do you see?

Concern for others goes a long way.

School-aged girl, mixed race, doing homework5. Talk to your pediatrician.

This pandemic has caused a lot of stress and anxiety for many kids and families. Discuss your child’s personal health risks and any concerns you have about your family’s specific situation with your pediatrician. Share your concerns in order to develop coping strategies, help manage your child’s risk of COVID-19 and come up with ways to reduce anxiety and stress.

6. Connect with others.

As the saying goes, you’re not alone. The world is in a challenging place right now, but there’s more opportunity than you think to connect with other people. Think virtual and be creative. Call your friends or pursue new friendships with your child’s friends’ parents.

7. Be mindful of your community.

Though COVID-19 rates in Connecticut are still on the lower side, we’re preparing for the possibility of another surge.

Be careful of group activities that may expose other children and families. When in doubt, ask your pediatrician for guidance.

Let’s work together to learn and play—but learn and play safe. The more we work as a team, the closer we will get to overcoming the pandemic.

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